No More Prizes for Showing Up

My just turned 8 year old daughter is engaged in what is supposed to be competitive dance. This was her choice after 4 years of recreational dance, and she devotes a tremendous amount of her time and effort (not to mention of Daddy’s time and money) to this endeavor. At the last competition in May, which featured hundreds of dancers representing dozens of dance schools, the tag line on the oversize banner behind the stage proclaimed: “Where every dancer is a star”. I was apparently not made aware that we were coddling our children in their competitions, and ran afoul of some unwritten rule when I announced loudly that “if they’re all stars, then none of them are stars”. It brought back memories of when my teenaged son played soccer when he was 5. Although there were rules and referees, there was no score keeping. Boys being boys, the little kids kept score anyway.

Now I am the farthest thing from a sideline or stage parent. I allow my kids to participate in what they wish, or nothing at all. When they play a sport or engage in an activity (and often I will coach or assist), I support the development of skills and good sportsmanship. I have taught them that it doesn’t matter if they lose, as long as they have done their best and had fun. But I do not want them to get ribbons and trophies for mere participation. Participation in these activities, along with the skills, friendships and enjoyment gained, is its own reward. We do our children no favours by bestowing on them false praise and unearned awards. At some point our children will be teenagers and eventually adults. None of us have made it through our teens (especially our teens), 20s, 30s and 40s, without experiencing disappointments, failures, sadness and hurt feelings. To provide our children with only emotional peaks while insulating them from these important emotional valleys only serves to render them ill equipped to handle real life, which will intrude upon them sooner rather than later. Moreover, if one is rewarded for mediocrity, or even failure, where is the incentive to make a greater effort? This sort of emotional protectionism sows the seeds of self-entitlement.

If we want our children to grow up to be self-starters, have a strong work ethic, value real achievement, and most importantly to mature into kind human beings who treat their fellow citizens with dignity and respect and of whom we can be proud, we must stop giving them awards, rewards, and praise just for showing up.